I’m pretty sure I married Hubby just to get his mother’s Christmas cookie recipes.
When I attended a Christmas Eve gathering at his mother’s house the first year we were dating, my eyes nearly bugged out of my head when I saw her Christmas cookie trays. Gorgeous confections iced to perfection, her Christmas cookies were a sight to behold, truly. As the story goes, she and Hubby’s father didn’t have a lot of money to spend on Christmas gifts for their families when they were first starting out. The first year they were married, instead of presents, my mother in law showed her affection in the form of sugar, shortening and about seven metric tons of flour.
A tradition was born.
Every year thereafter, her Christmas cookies became a staple at neighborhood parties and the stuff of legends. She honed her list down to ten kinds of German inspired cookies and she reverently shared her coveted recipes with me as part of my Christmas present after we married.
And so I learned the family Christmas cookie trade under my MIL’s watchful eye.
There are rules of engagement with these cookies, no shortcuts, no substitutions, and definitely no deviation from the cookie plan. Hubby’s family is serious AF about their cookies and over the years, my MIL, sisters in law and I have engaged in friendly competition over taste, presentation and complete and total domination of the Christmas cookie world.
Baking cookies en masse is a lot of frigging work. I don’t say this as a humblebrag, I promise. It’s simply a fact that baking cookies by the dozens of dozens requires time and patience. And a lot of butter. So. Much. Butter.
Over the years, as our circle of friends has increased, so has my cookie production. I make cookie trays for pretty much everyone this time of year: our mail carrier, the UPS guy, the random stranger behind me in Starbucks.
Basically, starting in early December, I am a Christmas cookie powerhouse. I am the woman you love to hate at this time of year but, you don’t complain because you shut your pie hole the minute you taste my morsels.
And a few years ago, after almost 15 years of baking that would put Martha Stewart and her bevy of cookie bakers to shame, my patience had worn thin.
I’m not sure if it was one too many burns on my hands as I jockeyed hot cookie sheets across the kitchen or the sheer exhaustion from icing six dozen personalized gingerbread men by hand, but I had reached my cookie baking threshold.
Between decking the halls, fa-la-la-laing all over town, and making things magical in every part of our house for the whole month of December, cookie baking had become a chore.
And I was gonna hang up my cookie cutters. Possibly for good, gingerbread men be damned.
And, thus, The Great Christmas Cookie Strike of 2014 was born.
I warned my family starting in July.
“I’m taking a year off from cookie baking this year.”
“No, I won’t make the spritz cookies.
“No, not the spitzbuben, either.”
“No. Christmas. Cookies. At. All. This. Year.”
“I AM ON A CHRISTMAS COOKIE STRIKE, DAMMIT.”
It took a while for my family to get on board. Read: everyone grumbled and rolled their eyes.
When December rolled around, I felt liberated! No chaining myself to the kitchen for days at a time! More time for what really matters at the holidays: friends and wine! I had more time for shopping and decorating and exterior illumination!
And best of all: no temptation to stress eat my way through warm, gooey cookies while listening to Christmas music on a cold, snowy day.
I was FREE of my Christmas cookie shackles and it was going to be awesome.
Until it wasn’t.
I saw it in my friend’s faces when I showed up with store bought trays. I felt it when the Fruit Loops opened the pantry and lowered their shoulders when they remembered Mom was on strike. When my mail carrier came to the door with our letters and asked if I was feeling okay because she’d noticed my cookies were missing, I felt a tinge of sadness.
The message was clear: my cookies were real and they were spectacular. And my Christmas cookies were missed.
Most of all by me.
My cookies were the way I could share a little bit of myself with our friends at the holidays. A way for me to say, “you are special enough for me to be elbow deep in royal icing for three days straight.”
I missed baking with the Fruit Loops. I missed the eager anticipation on my family’s faces when I pulled out my Kitchen Aid mixer. As I iced and rolled and kneaded and sprinkled, I thought of the friends and family who would receive the cookies. As corny as it sounds, I baked love and friendship and “thank you for still answering the phone when I call” into every cookie.
I realized that Christmas cookie baking actually brings me great joy at the holidays.
If I was being honest, exterior illumination made me swear like a trooper, I really didn’t need much time to shop thanks to Amazon Prime and while, yes, I saw my friends a little bit more often, the fact is, my Christmas cookies taste better with wine.
Forget creating a winter wonderland of twinkle lights. This mom was getting back to basics: Christmas cookies for everyone!
My family still whispers in hushed tones about the year I went on a Christmas cookie strike.
And, amazingly, no one complains about helping to lick Christmas card envelopes, wrapping gifts or untangling lights. One mention that I might not have time to ice their favorite cookies finds very helpful elves around this place and this Mrs. Claus isn’t complaining.
Because my Christmas cookies are magical AF.